Jaguars' Bortles looks like Mr. December
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles had perhaps the best game of his career Sunday against the Houston Texans.
He completed 21 of 29 passes (72.4 percent) for 326 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a career-best passer rating of 143.8.
It was the third consecutive game in which Bortles produced a rating of 119 or better. In December, he has completed 65 of 91 passes (71.4 percent) for 903 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 126.8, the best mark in the month of December among quarterbacks with at least 20 pass attempts.
"Honestly, I just kind of feel like I have been playing the same the whole time," he said. "Obviously, the results and numbers are a bit better, but I feel just as comfortable and as confident as I did six or seven weeks ago. I think guys are starting to make unbelievable plays. You've seen Dede (Westbrook) and Jaydon (Mickens) and Keelan (Cole) really come on and the offensive line has been really good. They've definitely made my job easy and allowed me to give those guys the ball and kind of let them do what they do best."
Bortles' recent play drew praise from team owner Shad Khan.
"I think it's been incredible. I think the stats show that," Khan said. "He's been kind of a different, more confident person and he's providing the leadership we all want out of him."
--Jacksonville's woes at wide receiver continued when starting wide receiver Marqise Lee went down with an ankle injury on the Jaguars' second possession of the game.
He joined Allen Robinson (on injured reserve since the season-opener with a torn ACL) and Allen Hurns (out the last five games with a severe ankle sprain) on the sideline. It is unclear how long Lee will be sidelined.
Those three injuries have opened the door for young receivers Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook and Jaydon Mickens.
Cole had not caught more than three passes in a game before Sunday, when he had seven receptions for 186 yards and one score.
"I am doing what I am supposed to be doing," Cole said. "They picked me up for a reason and they have faith in me. They call my number and I just had to make plays."
Mickens wasn't promoted to the 53-man roster from the practice squad until Oct. 21, and he was so uncertain of his future while he was on the practice squad that he slept in his car.
Mickens and teammate Larry Pinkard (promoted from the practice squad on Nov. 18) have since moved into a townhouse together.
"You can go into an offseason and not get paid for six months," Mickens said. "I would rather save every check if I'm on the practice squad for the whole year and have something to fall back on."
Mickens averages 11.9 yards on punt returns, and against the Texans he had four receptions for 61 yards and two touchdowns.
--Two Jaguars players who have suffered through five consecutive losing seasons and have enjoyed just 17 total wins in those years are linebacker Paul Posluszny and tight end Marcedes Lewis.
Posluszny led the team in tackles in five of the last six years, but only plays now when the Jaguars are in their base defense.
Lewis had two catches in Sunday's game against the Texans and that pushed his season total to 21 receptions.
Yet both players were among the happiest to see the team clinch its first playoff berth since the 2007 season. Lewis was a member of that team that beat Pittsburgh in the wild-card playoff game, but lost to New England in an AFC divisional playoff game.
"I've only been to the playoffs twice, but the magnitude will be different with everybody in this room," Lewis said. "This is exactly where we wanted to be ever since we stepped foot in here in training camp over the summer, and the work that we put in to get to this point right now is huge."
"Seems like all year, my entire career, honestly," Posluszny answered when asked how long he has thought about the playoffs. "You felt like at the beginning of the year, we had a special group and we really never said it was our specific goal, but you knew if we followed Coach (Doug) Marrone's formula, we would have a chance. Just the fact to know we are in the playoffs is an awesome feeling."
NOTES: WR Keelan Cole finished Sunday's game with 186 receiving yards, the second most by a Jaguars rookie in franchise history. ... QB Blake Bortles has thrown for multiple TDs and zero interceptions in three consecutive games for the first time in his 60-game NFL career. ... DE Calais Campbell extended his single-season franchise record for sacks to 14.5 with two more against the Texans on Sunday. He has now registered 2.0-plus sacks in four games this season, and joins teammate Yannick Ngakoue as the only two players in the NFL to register 2.0-plus sacks in at least four games this season. ... DT Malik Jackson had a sack in the first quarter and extended his career high to 8.0 sacks for the season. ... SS Barry Church had the Jaguars' only interception on Sunday, marking the 20th by the Jaguars in 2017, two behind Baltimore, which leads the NFL. ... WR Marqise Lee had an MRI of his injured ankle on Monday, but head coach Doug Marrone did not offer comments on Lee's status, saying he would update Lee's situation on Wednesday when the Jaguars return to practice. ... DE Yannick Ngakoue has 11.0 sacks and needs 1.5 sacks in the final two games to move into sole possession of second place on the Jaguars single-season sack leader list, behind current teammate Calais Campbell (14.5). ... K Josh Lambo has successfully converted on 16 of 17 field goals since joining the Jaguars on Oct. 17. ... P Brad Nortman averaged 47.2 yards on six punts Sunday with a net average of 44.5. Included in his kicks was a 65-yarder, his longest kick of the season.